Some time off at work lead to this….
As a kid, I always knew I wanted to be something special. In fact I knew I was going to be “special”. There was no doubt in my mind, though I had absolutely no idea what it was going to be. I knew it had to be something I loved doing, it had to be glamorous, it had to be paying extremely well, it had to help others, and most important, it had to be ‘right’. I never found the right profession.
As a ten year old, I wanted to be a scientist – that idea petered out when I realized that logic and patience were both not my strong points. Sometime later I wanted to be a historian or an archaeologist. I loved history and ancient culture, but nobody I knew I was a historian, so it didn’t seem like a feasible idea (I guess that shows how much I wanted it). Then of course, the ‘writer’ phase – a voracious reader, anything to do with language was interesting. It kind of came close to the perfect profession – writing came naturally to me, it paid well and was glamorous if you did it well (and I was absolutely sure that I would have). I wasn’t exactly sure on how it helped others and whether it was ‘right’ but well it came close. So, that was one definite probable profession. But a few half done stories and some months of reluctant introspection, I realized that it wasn’t meant to be. Writing essays was okay, writing a diary was okay, writing a few passages on something I felt strongly about was okay..but writing a book? I couldn’t do it. I had no drive, no passion, no compulsion to write. So that was that. Then, my teenage years, and the selfless part in me took a backseat – wanted something glamorous, the job which helped others could come maybe after a few years. So I thought I would be an airhostess (no offence to air hostesses!). Well, intentions were good, but being round and roly poly, was definitely not a stepping stone to the glamour world. One attempt to join the Taj group, and that was the end to that.
By this time I was almost through with college, and I realized that I had no idea about what I want to be. All these years I was quite sure that I knew exactly what I wanted, and now I discovered that I actually didn’t. I know, I know, long time for self-discovery, but if you know me personally, you would know that I can be a little slow when it comes to obvious thingsJ. With this discovery, came a sense of freedom, and I proclaimed to the world that I had no ambition. It felt nice, and light, and unburdening.
So now I looked for a job that was just a job. Just the money, fixed hours, and nothing more. My parents were kind of disappointed I think – they have never forced anything on me, but they did want the ‘right’ role for me, and they did think that I had a lot of untapped potential, but then parents are always biased. Finally, a lot of studies, and lot more time later, I started applying for random jobs. Telemarketing executive, faculty at a computer institute, career counselor (this was the best one!), marketing coordinator and so on. I got through my first two interviews, and I was pleasantly surprised. In the meanwhile, my father had actually convinced me to write for CAT. An MBA? Well yes, I loved the academics of management, but actually being a manager? Hello, no! Managers are disliked, and I didn’t intend to study to get unpopular! But then, the management preparatory classes were fun – I enjoyed the case studies and discussions and bonhomie between the students, and as a btw, I went and wrote the entrance exam. I don’t who flipped more – my parents or me when I got a call from IIMK and TAPMI. It should have been an easy choice, and it was. I chose a job I got in Bangalore. It was simple, unglamorous, low-paying, no growth path – as a writer for creating technical books for a computer institute. I think the only incentive was that it was in Bangalore, and that was glamorous enough for me.
I settled down. After all it was just a job. It was writing, it involved only minor coding, and it was only for a while. I did it, and did some more. And I liked it. Soon it wasn’t enough to be just doing it. There had to be a right way, there had to be perfection, there had to be sense it. I argued with peers, fought for what I believed in, and continued that, all the time still believing that it was just a job. But before I could fight more, I quit. The company was shifting base to another city, and so I joined as a writer in the e-Learning department of a big multinational company.
It was new, it was different, and it was good fun. But soon, it ceased to be. Things were not done the right way, there was not enough effort, the client had to be better informed, we should be more proactive – I had a million things to say and lots to contribute, or so I thought. One evening I had a fight with my TL, and she just didn’t seem to understand, and I cried and moped and then finally decided to quit. If things were not done ‘right’, there was no point right? After all there was something to be said about dedication to duty right? Ha! Coming from me, that was pretty weird.
I didn’t quit. After the crying session was over, I was quite determined to prove my point. And besides, to be honest, J thought it was stupid, and those days it was important what J said. And so began my journey as a writer in the team…
What was my job? In simple words, create online course for different audiences. It seems simple, it wasn’t. And soon I was fascinated with a subject called Instructional Design. The principles of learning, teaching theories, there seemed to be so many ways of teaching people. Oh it didn’t happen overnight, but you don’t realize when you have started enjoying your work. And after my experience with my TL, I was quite determined to fight the system within the system. To do the best I could, from within the system.
The funny part is all through my childhood, while I always confessed to knowing what I wanted to do, I also was very clear on what I didn’t want to be. A teacher. My mom was a teacher, and very good one, but somehow I had taken a dislike for the profession. It seemed too noble, too bland, too normal. It was therefore quite ironic to think that I was now thinking about learning theories and teaching strategies. And that’s when I realized that it was more than a job.
Almost three years later – I had become part of the system, a cog in the wheel. So much a part of the system that I didn’t realize where me ended and the system began. The idealism had rusted, and so had the enthusiasm, but I still believed. Believed in what I did, and the impact it had on the world. I guess, when I speak of it, it seems funny..how much impact does e-learning make? Do I really want to teach employees who don’t want to be taught? Arent I making my compromises on all the theories I believe in, so that I satisfy my ‘business demands’? Don’t I know that I can do a much better job, if only I could ignore my corporate bosses? Don’t I know that there are better ways of doing things, but just because my client is a moron and paying for it, I am smiling and listening to him? Don’t I know the best work on Instructional Design is being done abroad, and what comes to us here is the left overs, and yet I don’t protest?
Of course I know all that. I know and yet I believe.
Why? I know that I have changed, lost a few idealisms, but I have also gained a lot of other things. I have learned to value my work, value people and the work they are doing no matter how mundane it seems, learned to contribute where there could be no possible contributions. I have lost faith, but also gained it. In myself, in people, and most of all in the system. As I grew in the organization, I took on different roles. It took a lot of teething, but you do realize the restrictions and the problems that each person faces. A corporate culture can seem megalomaniac, but underneath, it is all about people, and choices, and wonderful inventions and creations. It is about normal, mundane work, and how it all adds up something wonderful, that actually helps out real people outside. It doesn’t involve selfless labour, blind commitment, and a lot of soul searching, but it does involve dedication and commitment. Of course, there is a lot of politics, there is envy, there is unfairness, and most of all, there is compromise. But beneath all that, ultimately, it is about taking pride in the work you are doing, about doing the best you can, given the restrictions, about creating a product which might not be the best you have done, but about creating a product which is best your team could. When I proclaimed to the world that I had no ambition, I meant it. Today, I know I am ambitious, not in saying that I want a great growth path, but that I want to do the best I can, in whatever I do.
Today, I lead a team of young writers, and it is very difficult to explain this to them. Especially when you are not sure of it yourself, and when you have discovered it after 5 years. G is young, passionate, idealistic, and exceptionally good at what he does. He is also termed as a difficult person, because he just does not confirm to any corporate guidelines. There have so many times I have lost my temper, but then, I keep seeing shades of the ‘old me’ within him, and I do not how to handle it. G also makes me question myself every day. He tests my faith every day. Have I sold out? Have I given up? I don’t believe I have, at least not to a great extent, but it’s a constant challenge to remind myself. I guess I am feeling bad, because I am sad about the part in me, that made the compromise.
And so the journey continues.. How long will I go on believing? Will I give up? Through all the depressing moments, will I have the strength to believe in what I profess to believe? I do not know…
The perfect profession…it doesn’t pay, it is not glamorous, not well paid. Does it help people? It does..and does not..I am not sure. But it seems ‘right’. For some reason. There are lot of bad days, especially when G creates a lot of fuss. On those days, I dream of being a travel writer. On other days, I crib and fuss, and yet continue to do what I do the best…believe…